This is the story of my first public poetry reading.
I love hearing poems read aloud by their authors in real life. That and listening to musicians perform are two things that always rekindle my sense of wonder and reaffirm my faith in humanity.
Having recently attended both the Paterson and Dodge poetry festivals in New Jersey, I was energized and excited by the poets I heard. The experience inspired me to write a trilogy of poems that share the theme of looking back at my life and family.
Just for kicks, I decided to share these poems in public, out loud, during the open mic portion of a poetry reading at the Fort Lee Public Library this past weekend. There were a few other men approximately my age who also read, including one who read a poem about an imaginary conversation with the poet Marianne Moore.
So I was emboldened to walk to the mic in front of the room and read the set of poems below. The crowd of perhaps two dozen was attentive, and applauded, and I felt pretty good about the experience.
At the end, as I gathered my coat and notebook, an older gentleman hurried toward me. There was joy in his eyes, and it was as if he couldn't wait to tell me how much he enjoyed my poems. I thought, "I have a fan!"
He shook my hand vigorously and smiled warmly. He said, "I bet you didn't know that Marianne Moore loved baseball and was a big fan of the Dodgers!"
I smiled just as warmly, admitted I didn't know that, and thanked him for the information.
Then, turning and turning, I slouched towards home.
Elegy in a Living Room
I lie alone in my boyhood home,
on a faux-leather sofa,
a curiosity from the 1970s
my mother won’t surrender.
The suburbs are Sunday-silent.
I shut my eyes and begin to float…
Up a lazy river by the old mill run,
the stardust of a river in the noon day sun.
A worm burrows into my head.
My father’s favorite song lingers in a dream,
as I nestle in the worn cradle of the armrest
where he drew his final breath.
When I was a teen,
my uncle led me up stone steps of a forbidden tower
to a parapet, with a panoramic view of St. Peter’s Square.
We were trespassing, and I was afraid of heights.
I told him I preferred to see the world with my feet on the ground:
Looking up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling,
Seeing my grandmother feed pigeons in the piazza,
Seeing the cool smooth marble of the Pieta inches from my eyes.
When I was a boy, I had seen Mary’s young face from afar,
behind bullet-proof, ceiling-to-floor plexiglass
on a dimly-lit moving sidewalk,
jostled by tourists at the World’s Fair.
As a teen, free from my Roman chaperones,
I was Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
I was the only person in the world viewing, in a stolen moment,
what Michelangelo had carved from a single stone.
In such dizzying proximity to perfection,
I understood the desire to destroy it.
And yet I have lived my life as an innocent man,
never seeking to avenge my younger self.
I am Zacchaeus, and this page is where I hide.
This piece of paper.
I own a prayer book
that reminds me of Nonna,
the way she would recite from her hymnal
while rocking in her front-porch chair.
She whispered a string of sibilant “s”-s,
audible only to young boys and house cats.
The words themselves were beyond my reach
as my grandmother conspired with God.
So I’ve saved this book,
but I’ve never opened it.
Instead, I hold it aloft and pretend I am young,
blowing seeds off a dandelion.
Lips pursed, facing the sun,
I watch particles of dust rise
from the dead and float to the heavens,